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Notre Dame defense unable to stop Michigan run game, allow over 30 points for first time in last two seasons

| Sunday, October 27, 2019

Many questioned whether the Irish would be able to stop the run this season after losing playmakers like linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’Von Coney and defensive tackle Jerry Tillery off last year’s defense. Analysts circled the Georgia game, predicting that that would be the day that Notre Dame’s cobbled-together front seven would get exposed.

Except it was not exposed that day. The opposite happened, with defensive coordinator Clark Lea finding a way to get the absolute most out of linebackers graduate student Asmar Bilal, junior Drew White, junior Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and others to hold D’Andre Swift to a respectable 98 yards rushing.

Their performance since then has been even more stout, with the last 100-yard rusher coming against Louisville in week one when the new players were settling into their roles. This all combined to make it shocking when Michigan ran for 303 yards, gauging Notre Dame up the middle for huge gains into the secondary with apparent ease. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he was surprised at how effectively Michigan ran the ball.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish junior linebacker Drew White, left, helps wrap up Wolverines senior quarterback Shea Patterson during Notre Dame’s 45-14 loss against Michigan at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

“That has not been who we are. We’ve been very stingy. Our identity was not on display tonight. We’re a physical team, we were not physical. We have to look at all the things that went on tonight as, ‘What kind of preparation did I put them in?’” Kelly said. “Players have to look at their performance, this is an all-in situation for players and coaches anytime you have a defeat like this.”

The Irish gave up six runs of 20 yards or more on a night where they could not manage a run longer than nine yards on offense. These chunk plays destroyed Irish momentum and allowed Michigan to establish early momentum and put up 21 points in a beat-down of a fourth quarter. Irish senior safety Alohi Gilman blamed the defensive shortcomings on a few things.

“It was a combination of things. We did not execute the way we were supposed to. We didn’t play as physical as were supposed to,” Gilman said. “We did not play up to our standard as a defense.”

Allowing 45 points is certainly not the Notre Dame standard, as the game broke a streak of 20 games straight without giving up more than 30 points. The Wolverines needed to attempt just 14 passes for them to amass 437 total yards. It was a truly difficult performance for the Irish run-stopping, and the road may not get easier.

The team will face several more run-heavy teams as the season goes on, with Boston College and their 256 rushing yards per game sticking out as a difficult late matchup. As temperatures drop and winter weather rushes in, the importance of being able to control the ground game will only increase. Kelly believes that they will need to examine all facets of the team including the run defense.

“We feel like this was a game where our team was not who they were. What we have to find out is why weren’t they playing at the level they have been at in the last two and a half years? That might be more on me. It might be my preparation, it might be in our game plan,” Kelly said. “It might be as simple as our preparation wasn’t what it needed to be over the last two weeks.”

Michigan’s run game took away Notre Dame’s chance at the College Football Playoff and shocked all players and coaches in the typically solid group. It was a painful day for the Irish run defense, and they will seek to get back to their physical style of play in coming weeks.

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